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‘I still think it was a historic blunder. Because such an opportunity (to become PM) does not come often’

Jyoti Basu,last of the long marchers in Indian politics,in an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta...

Written by The Indian Express |
January 18, 2010 2:06:42 am

Jyoti Basu,last of the long marchers in Indian politics,in an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24×7’s Walk the Talk. Excerpts: (IE,May 3,2004)

•Shekhar Gupta: My guest today is the last of the long marchers in our politics,in fact,perhaps the last of the great Communists or comrades anywhere in the world. Welcome to Walk the Talk.

Nobody knows Indian politics better than you. You’ve been in public life for 64 years now? So today,forget exit polls,forget opinion polls,do you see a Congress-led coalition in power,three weeks from now?

Jyoti Basu: That is what we are hoping for,we are working for. But it doesn’t depend on us only,but the smaller parties,and mainly on the Congress. But one good thing has happened. We’ve been telling the Congress that you can’t have a single party majority,ever. At least in the near future,we don’t see any possibility. So you must think about a coalition,which they refused last time when the BJP lost by one vote. And now it seems they’ve changed.

•Shekhar Gupta: So now Indian politics is finding a direction. This is a BJP-led coalition versus a Cong-led coalition?

Jyoti Basu: That’s right,correct.

•Shekhar Gupta: And that will be the direction for some time now?

Jyoti Basu: Some time now. That’s right.

•Shekhar Gupta: Do you see some atonement,some prayashchit or some introspection,in the Congress party for what mistakes you think they’ve made?

Jyoti Basu: In the economic sphere,they made a lot of mistakes. And it is Dr. Manmohan Singh who was the Finance Minister. He started this,blindly accepting World Bank policies and IMF policies…We didn’t like that. And,of course,I asked him once. He said but in my time not a single public sector undertaking was sold. Now they’ve modified it a bit. I see in the programme. But it will be a common minimum programme (for a coalition),it cannot be their programme.

•Shekhar Gupta: But that is the other issue: the issue of economic reforms. Now just the exit polls have seen the markets dropping and stock markets falling. There is a lot of anxiety about economic reform and the direction of India’s economy. Would you say that this is an undue concern?

Jyoti Basu: No,no,this is very much…people are concerned with the economy. And learning from the past mistakes,the mistakes of the BJP government and all that,we should work out a programme where we can stand on our own feet but also get technology,finance and other things from outside,but we must be selective. Not blindly accept whatever these people are saying. It is they who are responsible — the World Bank and IMF — for the downfall of the South-East Asian economy,which is gathering strength now. But that went down. Indonesia went down. And there’s a book written by the chief economic advisor to the World Bank…

•Shekhar Gupta: (Joseph) Stiglitz?

Jyoti Basu: Stiglitz. I read that,it’s wonderful.

•Shekhar Gupta: ‘Globalisation and its Discontents’…

Jyoti Basu: Yes. He says it’s not working,particularly.

•Shekhar Gupta: What you are saying is that reform or globalisation or free markets may by themselves not be bad but you have to be sensible in the way you implement those policies.

Jyoti Basu: Absolutely.

•Shekhar Gupta: And to that extent,are you happy with the way your successor is doing?

Jyoti Basu: He has also invited foreigners here. When I was the chief minister,I went abroad four or five times to address industrialists there and talk about our economic situation. And some result was there…Philips,the Siemens and some others came. Then petrochemicals…

•Shekhar Gupta: So,you don’t see MNCs by themselves as a bad thing?

Jyoti Basu: No,this is capitalist globalisation,you see. It helps only a few. I find he writes,Stiglitz,that even in America,the numbers of poor people have grown.

•Shekhar Gupta: But when your government here or your successor invites MNCs,or getsJapanese investment,Mitsubishi…or gets DFID money to close down loss-making companies,is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Jyoti Basu: No,no,Mitsubishi was already there. During my time,they came. When Haldia Petrochemical (came up),I had to wait 13 years to get permission from the Central Government. Rajiv was there,he went along with me and then laid the foundation stone. So this is just one example. In Salt Lake,where you are questioning me,Bidhan Nagar we call it,there is the electronic sector where 17,000 boys and girls are working everyday. And Indira Gandhi,having promised to help me,did not help me. We helped ourselves.

•Shekhar Gupta: But the kind of reform that your successor is now doing,you see that as good reform?

Jyoti Basu: Of course. That is within our policy. In 1994,I placed on the floor of the Assembly our industrial policy as asked by the…

•Shekhar Gupta: Would you say that the argument in Indian politics today is not whether there should be reform or not but what kind or direction of reform should take place?

Jyoti Basu: Reform has to be there,there is no doubt about that. But the point is you must not forget 70 per cent of the people in the villages.

•Shekhar Gupta: Your own CM in the state is selling a lot of public sector industries. In fact,he is selling a lot of public sector industries with the DFID money.

Jyoti Basu: Yes,that’s right. With British aid. They have earlier also helped us in education.

•Shekhar Gupta: So you approve of that?

Jyoti Basu: I have no objection. No conditionality should be there. And they come every year to see what is happening,on the ground.

•Shekhar Gupta: So you don’t mind investment…

Jyoti Basu: If there are mutual interests,I don’t mind.

•Shekhar Gupta: The question that I know you expect to be asked everytime somebody speaks with you. The division in your party and what you described as the ‘historic blunder’.

Jyoti Basu: Yes,I still think it was a historic blunder. Why historic? Because such an opportunity does not come. History does not give such opportunity. Knowing who I am — a Marxist,a Communist,in the party here,for so many years I’ve been in politics,they invited me because they had no other prime minister in view. So we thought that even if we last for one year in that coalition with myself as the prime minister and our party joining it,then people would understand backward sections. In many places,they don’t even know what we are all about.

•Shekhar Gupta: Tell me,one last word. The other senior politician in our system besides you is Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. You’ve known him for a long time. What is your view on him?

Jyoti Basu: I know all of them. Advani,I know. V.P. Singh sent me to him before the break-up of the government (saying) please prevent him from this rath yatra. I went to his house,I sat there,argued with him. He would not agree. And again,he’s started this rath yatra. And thousands were killed at that time.

•Shekhar Gupta: But you’ve said uncomplimentary things about him. I think you’ve called the BJP barbarians and you said you will never speak with Mr Advani again.

Jyoti Basu: Yes,yes. But he asked me. After a meeting here four years back,he called me to Raj Bhawan (and said) that ‘I told the crowd that I’ll ask you why you call us barbarians and uncivilised’. I said I am naming nobody but three of your ministers were there when Babri Masjid was being brought down. And I’m talking about what you’ve done. That time,the Christian killings had not started. Later on,that happened.

•Shekhar Gupta: And you call Mr Vajpayee a mask in the context of Gujarat. But overall,what’s your view on him,as a person,politician,statesman?

Jyoti Basu: As a person,he’s quite a gentleman. An educated person,all that I knew for a long time. And when he was,I think,foreign minister,that time also he behaved. But he himself says he’s RSS. He depends on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad,the Bajrang Dal. But that mask has now fallen,fortunately,before the elections. I am happy about that.

Well,Mr. Basu,I know you are beaming. I think you are looking at very interesting politics in the weeks to come. And I know no opportunity is ever lost forever. I know you are around. And you never know what may happen. Well,we are optimistic (laughs).

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